The Linguistic Minorities Commission’s job is to safeguard the 16 crore linguistic minorities in the country. Its Chairman Suresh Keswani told Vinod Sharma the panel is crippled by official apathy and a measly Rs one crore budget:
What’s your response to attacks on north Indians in Mumbai?
Unlike in the past, we have no interface with the Home Ministry that handles inter-state issues including languages. Our nodal point is the Minority Affairs Ministry. That has left us crippled. Our headquarters in faraway Allahabad impedes access to MPs and others with complaints of atrocities on linguistic minorities.
How can the Commission, that itself needs help, safeguard people?
There are costs involved in functioning away from the main centre. Our Rs one crore annual budget is static since 1957. Posts are lying vacant. Our Chandigarh office is shut, the Mumbai outpost shifted to Belgaum. That puts serious limitations on our work.
What should be done in Maharashtra?
It has to be settled by the State government. I had conveyed to the PM that linguistic issues are going to become law and order issues. My job is to ascertain facts, suggest action. There is no response to our reports to the PM and the nodal Ministry over the past two years. The remedy is in setting up grassroots committees with NGOs and members of the civil society.
What’s the gravity of threat posed by linguistic conflicts?
My report is confidential until tabled in Parliament. As education alone can inculcate tolerance to avoid conflicts, we must promote literacy among children of linguistic minorities in the lower middle and labour class. It has to be in their mother tongue. Every state has linguistic minorities. Teachers can be recruited from states from where they migrate and schools established with a fraction of the money spent on fighting Naxalism or dealing with Mumbai-like situations. But the issue isn’t addressed even in Assam where Hindi, Urdu and Bengali speaking people are attacked for a variety of reasons.